God did it…

A number of years ago, there was a comedian (Flip Wilson) whose signature line was “The devil made me do it!” We laughed at him–sometimes ruefully–because I think many of us wished we could blame problems / bad choices on something / someone outside ourselves. For many of us, it wasn’t serious. Yes, we acknowledged that there is evil in the world, but many of us did not believe that there was a devil with horns and a pitchfork holding puppet strings on us and making us do bad things.

Fast forward to today…

Instead of “the devil made me do it” we are hearing far more often “God did it!” That statement is often in reference to our current president–that God put him in place.

Sorry, but I don’t buy that any more than I did “the devil made me do it.”

God didn’t create puppets. We are created with minds to use…to think and to make decisions ourselves. And we then face the consequences of those decisions.

Yes, God can–and does–use flawed human beings. There are plenty of stories about that in the Bible. Those names–David, Solomon, Samson, Jonah (and others)–are often held up as examples, and I believe they can be. Just not in the way many people like to use them. They were human beings who made some lousy choices. Despite those choices, when they were willing to allow God to use them, God could.

But did God put them in place? And make them make those decisions?

Nope.

No more than God is sitting somewhere “up there” looking down on us and deciding that this person should be president and that one should not. I believe that God works with us and tries to guide us into making wise choices…but not that God removes our freedom to make choices…or our living with the consequences of those choices.

“God did it…”? No. We did it (whatever “it” we are talking about)…and it would be wise of us to acknowledge our responsibility in creating the kind of world we are living in…and our responsibility for cleaning up the messes we have made.

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This is my song…

I’ve had a lot to think about this last week. I attended the national convention of the American Guild of Organists in Kansas City. It was a wonderful week of music, classes, fellowship, and worship…some very powerful worship!

Since this is the 100th year since the end of World War I, many of the events of last week were connected and intertwined with that event. They were vivid reminders of the desire–and need–for peace in our world…and the difficulties we have in being peaceful.

Yes, the “great war” was 100 years ago, but so many of the feelings and events that led up to it sounded so contemporary…unfortunately. I was reminded of a line from the song that was popular during the Vietnam War–“When will we ever learn?”

Music in its many forms can challenge us. It can give us hope. It can call us to be better people…and help us focus on the better future that we all want. It can remind us that we are all children of one God–whatever name we call the Divine.

May we somehow learn to sing together these words so often set to the tune Finlandia:

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

May truth and freedom come to every nation,
may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
That each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting ev’ry wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.

Questions…and more questions…

I have struggled with trying to figure out how to say what I want to say, because I know some of the words I use will turn people off…will convince them that my mind is already made up…will be offensive to some. But I don’t know what other words to use. So I’m just asking you to please be willing to suspend your preconceptions of who I am and what you think I’m going to say…

Over the last few days I’ve heard and seen a lot of comments attacking parents who have crossed our borders illegally…asking how they could put their children in danger…suggesting that those who have been protesting the current administration’s policies don’t care about the children in the United States who are separated from their parents who are in the military or in jail…asking where the protestors over the last few administrations were when some of these same issues were a problem.

I can’t answer all of those questions. All I can do is share what I understand.

Right now I don’t really care who started the policy. I can spend a lot of breath in the blame game—but at the end of the day, families…and vulnerable children…are still hurting. My brothers and I sometimes got into arguments and—when our parents got tired—we pointed fingers at each other. “He started it.” “No, she did.” That wasn’t important to our folks. What WAS important was this: “It doesn’t matter who started it. It’s time to stop it.”

I do know there are children who are in foster care in this country because of choices their parents made or who are separated from the families because of military obligations. I know they hurt as well, and I wonder if we can’t find a better way to help them as well.

But what probably bothers me the most are the comments questioning the parenting of fathers and mothers who have made dangerous trips to try to get to this country with their children. “How could they risk their children’s lives?” I really struggle with this. It feels like those questions are coming from a position of privilege. I don’t mean that as an attack on anyone.

Let me try to phrase it a different way.

I’m a mother in a country whose government has no real control…whose officials are steeped in corruption. I cannot trust the police—they are controlled by the local gangs. My husband did his best to support us, but there is no real work unless you are part of the gang. He refused to go along with what they wanted, and one night he was attacked and killed. I know who did it, but even if I went to the police, nothing would happen because the gang pays the police to turn their backs. I’m afraid to go to the police, because when you do, you get killed as well—and then what will happen to my children? That happened to my neighbor.

I have four children—two girls and two boys. The boys are 4 and 6. They are good boys and I want them to have a good life. But the gang is already after them. They want them to be runners. If we refuse, they will kill the boys. That is what they do to tell others not to refuse. My girls are 9 and 11. They are beautiful girls, and that scares me. I cannot let them go out on their own, because if I do, they will probably not come home. The leader of the gang is demanding that I send them to him. I know what happens to girls who are taken by the gang. They are raped…again and again. And when they are no longer “useful,” they are killed. But if I tell him “no,” they will be killed.

There is no hope for us here. I cannot stay. I have heard of men who will help us get to a safer place, to a country where we can start again. It is expensive and will take everything I have. And it is dangerous…but it cannot be any more dangerous than it is to stay here. Perhaps my children and I will die on the journey. But we will die here if we stay.

I’ve never had to live like that. I can’t imagine what it is like. But I CAN understand the fears of that mother and her hope and desire for a better future for her children.

My heart aches for them—as it also aches for ALL families and children who are separated from each other, regardless of the cause.

But finger pointing and playing the blame game doesn’t help us get any closer to a solution. We have to listen to each other, because there ARE valid concerns being expressed. So how can we resolve the issues in ways that can hopefully help bring healing to situations that are so difficult to deal with? I’m not sure what the answers are.

One thing I do know, though. We are ALL human beings, people of worth…created, I believe, by the same God I worship, in the image of God. If I can see the image of the Divine in each person, maybe…just maybe…that’s where we can start trying to find answers.

Have we lost our souls?

I grew up understanding that I should live by the Golden Rule. In modern terminology, it might be expressed this way: “Treat others like you want to be treated.” When I was older, I realized that there is a version of that in all of the world’s major religions.

I also grew up with the understanding that love is the greatest commandment of all. “Love God with all your being…love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

And this…”Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.”

I also grew up reading (and in choir, singing) the last part of the poem by Emma Lazarus that is engraved on the Statue of Liberty. But the entire poem is worth reading today:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

And then I look around my country today…and the religion I have claimed…and I don’t recognize either of them.

Christianity–or what claims to be Christianity by so many people–seems so far removed from what I learned as a child. And my country–a place of freedom and hope, even if / when imperfectly expressed–now seems to have turned its back on the promise engraved on the Statue of Liberty.

do recognize that there are problems that we need to deal with re: immigration. But to separate frightened children from their one source of comfort? and then issue directives to staff that they are not to physically comfort them? To tell parents who are fleeing violence and oppression that if they come into this country–whether illegally or legally seeking asylum–their children will be removed from them without them having a chance to explain what is going on (if they can even understand themselves what is happening)…and to tell them they don’t know if they will see their children again?

I used to wonder how good people could have done what many Nazis did. What happened to their consciences? Did they not have any empathy for those parents and children? How were they able to separate parents from children and then go home without a qualm to play with their own children?

I used to think that we would never be like that. But I’m afraid that I’m wrong.

My own faith tradition believes that God continues to speak to us today. When I go back to re-read some of that contemporary guidance, I am challenged and convicted.

There are subtle, yet powerful, influences in the world, some even claiming to represent Christ, that seek to divide people and nations to accomplish their destructive aims. That which seeks to harden one human heart against another by constructing walls of fear and prejudice is not of God. Be especially alert to these influences, lest they divide you or divert you from the mission to which you are called.

God, the Eternal Creator, weeps for the poor, displaced, mistreated, and diseased of the world because of their unnecessary suffering. Such conditions are not God’s will. Open your ears to hear the pleading of mothers and fathers in all nations who desperately seek a future of hope for their children. Do not turn away from them. For in their welfare resides your welfare.

I pray that we will find our souls again before it is too late…for all of us.

 

WWJD

WWJD? Remember those wristbands that were popular a few years ago with those letters on them? WWJD?

What would Jesus do?

If you wore that wristband, what did it mean to you? Was it just a nice thought? Or were you wearing it to say “I am the representative of Jesus to those I meet…and so how should I behave so that they see Jesus in me?”

Jesus wasn’t an easy person to follow! He didn’t just go along with the way things were…he challenged the status quo big time! He spent time with the marginalized…those who were considered unclean, who weren’t welcome in the “nice” settings. He wasn’t particularly concerned about keeping the letter of the law; he was more concerned about the spirit of the law being in the heart. He saw all people as being worth God’s love–and he made sure they knew it.

So…

WWJD? What would Jesus do today?

If you are his follower, what are you doing today so that people see Jesus in you? There aren’t easy answers to that question. But it’s an important question to ask.

There’s another question that I think goes along with this…If you were arrested for being a follower of Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

We’re each going to respond differently to those questions. But for those of us who claim to be followers of this guy who spent his entire life upsetting the way things were, how are we upsetting the status quo in ways that acknowledge the worth of each individual? What would Jesus do? What are we doing?

Whose church is it?

In Germany in the 1930s, Christianity had in many ways become a partner to the Nazi movement. Many pastors agreed with the Nazi ideology and supported laws and statements that were issued by its leaders. A major focus of this partnership was a reinterpretation of Christianity as an Aryan religion that had no Jewish influences–and that there were “undesirable elements” that weakened the country and should be removed for the “greater good” (i.e., mentally and physically disabled, members of the LGBT and Romany [Gypsy] communities, Jews).

There were others who watched this co-option of German Christianity with horror, and at Barmen, representatives of various Protestant leaders came together to create a declaration now known as the Barmen Declaration that defined their opposition to any interpretation of Christianity based on racial theories. This placed members of their churches in direct political opposition to the government.

Today there are leaders of American Christianity who see a similar need. Far too many who claim to follow Jesus are supporting statements and actions that are in contradiction to what the Jesus of the gospels preached and how he acted.

In response to this concern, a number of American church leaders gathered in a retreat during Lent 2018 and have created a declaration for this time and this political environment. It is a call to the followers of Jesus to think again about what it means to truly live as his followers.

As in the Barmen Declaration, there are six specific declarations in the document titled Reclaiming Jesus. You can read the entire document at the link, but a short version of the concerns and responses follows below:

  1. We believe each human being is made in God’s image and likeness….Therefore, we reject the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership.
  2. We believe we are one body. In Christ, there is to be no oppression based on race, gender, identity, or class….Therefore, we reject misogyny, the mistreatment, violent abuse, sexual harassment, and assault of women that has been further revealed in our culture and politics, including our churches, and the oppression of any other child of God.
  3. We believe how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself….Therefore, we reject the language and policies of political leaders who would debase and abandon the most vulnerable children of God.
  4. We believe that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives…Therefore, we reject the practice and pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life.
  5. We believe that Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood, not domination….Therefore, we reject any moves toward autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule.
  6. We believe Jesus when he tells us to go into all nations making disciples. Our churches and our nations are part of an international community….Therefore, we reject “America first” as a theological heresy for followers of Christ.

The creators of this document call us to think again about whose church it is that we belong to…and what it means to go deeper into our relationship with God and with each other, especially across racial, ethnic, and national lines–and deeper into our relationships with those who are the most vulnerable.

Many of us believe that we are living in a time of darkness–but we also have hope in the one whom John calls “the light of the world.” This declaration calls us to share that light…and to live in response to the commandments to love God with all our being and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Jesus said that all the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.

What will we do?

 

The Power of Words

I’ve been reminded again this week of the power of words…power to wound and power to heal. I’m not going to go into specific examples, because we can each think of those times when we have been deeply wounded by someone’s choice of words and–hopefully–also those times when someone’s words have brought healing.

I don’t believe that most people intentionally to hurt someone else with words. But it happens.

So then what?

Sometimes the comment is “Well, just get over it.” Sometimes it is just that easy.

But often it’s not.

When the wound goes deep into the soul…when one’s hurt is dismissed…when one is made to feel “less than” because of what someone has said…it’s a far more complicated and lengthy process. And even if one is able to find healing, there is still a scar.

One is fortunate if they are blessed with someone who is willing to be present through the journey towards healing. I have been.

I went through a very difficult time when my concerns were dismissed…actions and statements made that cut deeply…and I was left wondering if I even belonged in the faith tradition I had spent my whole life in–and was very involved with. I was blessed by someone who expressed concern every time we met…who did not let me hide behind the mask that I presented to everyone else. I did not see her all that often, but every time I did, I knew that she heard and cared–really cared.

And her presence–her “being with”–pulled me through.

It bothers me when someone is hurt–and those who did the wounding, even unintentionally, dismiss the pain.

We often think that it’s the responsibility of the person who is hurting to make the first move. Again, sometimes that can happen. But for those of us who follow the one we call Jesus, we are called to behave differently. The modern translation The Message puts it this way in Matthew 5:23-24:

If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.

Even if I think I did nothing wrong, if I’m aware that there is a division between me and someone else, it’s my responsibility to try to make things right. Not always easy–in fact, often not easy because it goes against common behavior.

But if we want to be healers, then we are called to recognize the power of words to wound, but more importantly, to heal.